BOSTON — Nearly 40% of doctors under age 40 admitted in a survey to be published today that they use marijuana or cocaine to get high with friends, and a quarter of doctors of all ages said they recently treated themselves with mind-affecting drugs.
Overall, more than half of the physicians and three-quarters of the medical students who participated in the Harvard University survey said they have used drugs at least once for self-treatment, to get high or to help them stay awake.
Only 1% of the doctors surveyed said their drug use had caused them to give poor care to patients.
The researchers said medical students and young doctors are more experienced with drugs than are older physicians. They predicted that the proportion of drug-taking doctors will grow as medical students set up practice and take their habits with them.
Histories of Drug Use
"Perhaps for the first time," the researchers wrote, "appreciable although small proportions of persons entering medicine have histories of extensive drug use and dependence."
But they concluded that the drug use they found "should not be cause for great alarm," because it simply reflects growing drug use throughout American life.
"When psychoactive drug use becomes a fad and is approved by the broad spectrum of society, just about all groups get involved," said Dr. William E. McAuliffe, the study's director. "That includes physicians and pharmacists as well, the people who are usually the keepers of the drugs."
McAuliffe, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, published his findings in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. His study was based on a random survey of 500 practicing physicians and 504 medical students in Massachusetts conducted in November, 1984.
The study found that marijuana was the most popular drug among doctors and students. Seventy-two percent of the students and 34% of the doctors said they had tried marijuana.
The second-most popular drug among students was cocaine, whereas opiates were the next-most popular among doctors.